Thursday, December 20, 2007

Jack Zander R.I.P.

Animator Jack Zander, who helped develop Jerry of Tom and Jerry fame and pioneered animated commercials, died Monday at the age of 99.

Zander was born Arthur Jack Zander in Kalamazoo, Michigan. When he was in his teens, his family moved to Hollywood. He had planned to be an artist and attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. It was while he was at Chouinard that he found the career of his lifetime. The school received a call from the son of Western novelist Zane Grey, Roemer Grey, who had was founding an animation studio. The receptionist asked Zander and his friend Pete Burness (who would go onto work on many of the Mr. Magoo shorts and for Jay Ward), "Are you fellows animators?" The two of them being in dire need of jobs, they both answered, "Yes." At the time Zander didn't even know what an animator was. At Roemer Grey's studio Zander learned from two experienced animators, the brothers Tom and Bob McKimson (both would later work at Warner Brothers).

Grey's studio went out of business rather swiftly, leaving Zander out of work. In the following years Zander would work at Warner Brothers, the Van Buren studio, and Terrytoons. Eventually, he found himself at MGM. It was while he was at MGM that Zander helped Joseph Barbera develop the Tom and Jerry series, animating the mouse Jerry (called "Jinks" in the first cartoon) in the debut short of the series, "Puss Gets the Boot." During World War II Zander served as part of the Army Signal Corps. In the Signal Corps he made animated training films.

Following the war Zander left theatrical animation for the new field of animating commercials for television. He made his first TV commercial in 1947, an advert for Chiclets gum. In 1954 he founded his first animation studio, Pelican Films. Among his most popular commercials were those for Peils Beer, featuring animated brothers Bert and Harry Piels (voiced by comedy team Bob and Ray). Pelican Films lasted from 1954 to 1986, going out of business only after an ill planned foray into live action. In 1970 Zander founded Animation Parlour. Zander would go onto direct an episode of the ABC Superstar Movie, Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter (the film featured several King Features characters, including Hi and Lois, Snuffy Smith, Mandrake the Magician, and so on). He also directed the TV special Gnomes (which was nominated for an Emmy). Zander also directed the title sequence for the earliest seasons of Saturday Night Live, as well as the Tippi Turtle segments of the show.

Jack Zander may not be as famous as other names from the Golden Age of Animation, but his contributions to the medium are no less great. Indeed, he is as responsible for the success of Tom and Jerry as either William Hanna or Joseph Barbera, having worked on the first several cartoons of the series. He was also a pioneer in the field of animated commercials. Over the years he worked for such brands as Alka-Seltzer,Camel cigarettes, Colgate, Crest, Freakies breakfast cereal, Green Giant, and Shell Oil. During his career in commercials, he directed over 5000 adverts. While he may not be as famous as Chuck Jones or Tex Avery, he certainly made important contributions to the field of animation.

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